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IBM offers a free server "hop" for Linux apps

At the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo Big Blue unveiled a huge free-of-cost ISV initiative that allows for the "hopping" of Linux applications from one IBM server to the next.

As developers, users and vendors settled in for LinuxWorld this week, IBM introduced a new service for ISVs called IBM eServer Application Server Advantage for Linux, also known as Chiphopper.

Big Blue has touted the service as a first for the IT industry because it will allow ISVs to enable a single version of their Linux applications to operate, or "hop," across all of IBM's eServer line. This includes blades and clusters, Linux on Power, Linux on the mainframe and entry-level x86-based servers.

Scott Handy, IBM vice president for Linux, said Chiphopper enables ISVs to address approximately 40% of IBM's non-Intel based server revenue.

Chiphopper, Handy said, is a no-charge worldwide program that assists ISVs who wish to take their existing x86-based Linux applications and easily test, port, and support them across all of IBM's systems.

Charles King, principal analyst for Hayward, Calif.-based Pund-IT Research, said the notable news here is not that IBM is offering cross platform support for Linux, but that the cost of the service is free to ISVs.

"When was the last time any vendor was offering something like this at no charge?" King said. "The other interesting thing is when you look at competing vendors most don't have a lot have multiple platforms to worry about."

King also found it important to note that this service will serve as a gateway for x86 applications to "hop" onto the pSeries, iSeries and also the mainframe.

"Business is built on relationships and I basically see this as IBM saying, 'We have strong Linux services and a deep hardware and middleware product pool,'" he said.

Even though the service is free of charge, King said IBM will benefit immensely from having applications developed across their hardware line.

[Chiphopper] gives ISVs a free gateway to deploy their [applications] in doing this [IBM] is also deepening ties and opening relationships with vendors that may not have apps on their hardware,' King said.

Pursuing portability

Handy said that ISVs have two avenues to pursue if they wish to get portability with Chiphopper.

"Most applications are written either directly to the operating system or newer applications are written to middleware to enhance their portability. IBM's Chiphopper supports both methods," Handy said.

For applications written directly to the operating system, IBM bases portability on the industry standard Linux Standards Base (LSB) specification maintained by the Free Standards Group (FSB). Chiphopper also supports LSB extensions like OpenLDAP, OpenSSL and Perl, he explained.

For applications using middleware for portability, Chiphopper supports IBM WebSphere, DB2 and Rational providing Java, J2EE, Web Services and Services Oriented Architecture open standards based support in those applications, Handy said.

Keeping it all in perspective

For Handy, the Chiphopper news out of IBM comes at an important time for ISVs and Linux in general.

"According to Gartner, the Linux market is growing at 56% year over year," he said. "The only other operating system [experiencing] growth is Windows."

Handy also set his sights on competitors HP and Sun Microsystems, who posted 23% and 14% server market share, respectively, compared to IBM's leading 37% in 2005.

But King cautioned Linux supporters from getting overzealous about those numbers.

"The numbers are impressive … but in spite of that, the year to date Linux server revenue compared to Windows was basically less than 1/3 Windows revenues," King said.

However, King said, what is very attractive about Linux and its growth is that vendors like IBM have "really gotten their stories straight about Linux" and that the market has really become very comfortable with it.

If Linux were to continue on this path of tremendous growth, King said, then it would be well on its way to overtake Windows.

"That being said, it is going to be some time before that occurs," King said. "It's still very early in the development cycle compared to some of the products it goes up against. I think that's one of the reasons why Microsoft's so worried about it."

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